Tag Archives: Rainbow Rowell

Defending Against Demands for Censorship

When parents ban a book in their home, we can all agree that this is their right. When they know what their children are reading, read the book, and discuss the characters, plot, and issues in the book … this keeps their children talking to them about the books they read. If they read the book and decide it’s not appropriate for their child, or that it should be read when the child is older, we all agree: this is good parenting.

When parents decide that a book is not right for anyone else’s child and they make demands that it be removed from local school or public libraries, then they are taking over the role of parenting from other parents. They are, in effect, acting as bullies. In many instances, they have not read the book but pick out elements without knowing the story. They are demanding that their decisions govern what other people read, think, and do as parents.

Book challenges happen all the time. So much so, in fact, that librarians and authors have become all too familiar with this process. Tempers get riled, jobs are on the line, and people tend to back away from the bullies. Some administrators placate, some defend. Governing boards keep one eye on the forthcoming election. People in the book world raise an eyebrow, sigh, and say, “That’s censorship. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

But what do we do about censorship? … uninformed demands? … bullying?

We encourage our children to learn words of tolerance, to stand up to their bullies, to speak up about what hurts. Why then, as adults, do we back away and let the bullies win when books are banned? Why do our voices remain silent?

The Book Being Challenged

Eleanor & ParkMost recently, parents in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s District 11, demanded that Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell be removed from the school district. High school librarians, all of whom had read the book, the starred reviews, and knew that the book had already won the Boston Globe / Horn Book Award, thoughtfully chose the book as part of their voluntary summer reading program. Anoka County Library agreed to support this program by bringing the author to the public library in September, an opportunity for the summer readers to meet the author.

The book contains profanity. The two main characters are so offended by the profanity that they hear on the bus and in school that they’ve withdrawn into their own worlds. They form a hesitant friendship, helping each other past the hurt of the everyday verbal and emotional attacks by other high school children. It’s a friendship which blossoms into love. I don’t want to ruin the plot for those of you who will, I hope, read this book, but you should know that Eleanor and Park decide not to have sex. Isn’t this what every parent hopes will happen?

Evidently it wasn’t enough for Troy Cooper and his wife. They filed their challenge at Anoka High School, focusing on profanity and obscenity, and then joined the Parents Action League, which has demanded the banning of Eleanor & Park. They are working to change the book selection criteria in the high school libraries to reflect their values. Each library already has a district-wide selection policy and district-wide challenge process in place. For the Coopers, it is not restrictive enough. The school board bypassed the selection policy when they approved the Coopers’ challenge. The library board agreed to the Coopers’ demands as well: they withdrew from contract negotiations to bring the author to the public library.

You can read several articles (listed in no particular order) about this book challenge: 

A Chat with Rainbow Rowell about Love and Censorship,” Mallory Ortberg, The Toast, September 17, 2013

True Love, Book Fights, and Why Ugly Stories Matter,” Linda Holmes, Monkey See, National Public Radio, September 18, 2013

Statement to the A-H School Board on Eleanor & Park Book Selection,” Julie Blaha, AHEM Weekly, September 23, 2013

District 11’s Summer Reading Selection Questioned,” Olivia Koester, ABC Newspapers, September 19, 2013 

Anoka Co. Library Board Opts Out of Promoting Controversial Author,” Tom Steward (also published on Watchdog.org), Anoka County Record, August 29, 2013

Updates (9/28/13):

“Rainbow Rowell Talks to CBLDF about the Attacked on Eleanor & Park,” Casey Gilley, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, September 27, 2013

Common Sense Media gives Eleanor & Park 5 Stars for ages 14 and up.

When we’ve talked with people about this book challenge, many have asked what good it would do to speak up. Some have stated that book challenges happen all the time. A few have even said it would help Rainbow Rowell’s book sales to have the book challenged.

This is not a Minnesota problem. It is Banned Books Week, created by the American Library Association to call attention to the many books that are banned each month across our country. 

Librarians Are Champions 

What everyone seems to overlook are the champions who introduce children to books that reflect their lives, challenge their suppositions, and give them access to worlds that stretch their minds without engaging in the situations themselves. Books encourage empathy. Reading is essential for creating an informed, voting populace. School and public librarians have chosen this profession which allows them to work with children who are readers, and to encourage the children who are reluctant to read. They are tireless in their efforts to keep kids reading. 

The high school librarians in District 11 chose this book because they had read it and they know that it would resonate with many of their students. They know that school is not a gentle place. They know that it is a book recommended fervently by book experts and other teens who have read it. The summer reading program was voluntary. No one was required to take part. And yet 200 students in five high schools signed up to take part. They looked forward to meeting the author in September. 

The school board and the library board have “encouraged” these librarians not to say anything about the book challenge. The librarians were not invited to take part in the school board hearings. They have been threatened with disciplinary action. And still these champions stand behind their decision to choose Eleanor & Park for reading and discussion. Copies of the book are available at Anoka County Library: there is a lengthy waiting list. 

Update (9/28/13): In a letter signed by the National Coalition Against Censorship | Kids’ Right to Read Project, we note this: “The board’s action thus undermines its own professional staff and sends the message that it will engage in censorship to appease a vocal minority, rather than defend the mission and integrity of the public library as a space that respects and supports intellectual freedom.” This letter is signed by The National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and the Free Expression Advocacy of the American Association of Publishers.

Where is our support for these librarians? 

When do we speak up to let groups like the Parents Action League know that it is not okay with us that they are deciding what our children can read? That it is not okay to act as bullies? 

We ask that you not overlook this book challenge. It has already received a good amount of press. Why not be a part of the story that floods the administrators’ offices with mail, phone calls, and e-mail in support of the librarians’ work? 

Take Action 

We ask that you write a letter to, call, or e-mail any or all of the people listed below, telling them that you do not approve of censorship. You can let them know that you believe in individual choice and the rights of parents to decide what their children read. You can tell them that librarians are essential connections who are educated to work with individuals and groups to place the right book into the right readers’ hands … and you trust them to do that. 

We ask that you pass this article along to as many other reading advocates as you can. 

We do not believe that it is okay to be silent, to let the bullies continue. 

We believe it is our duty to stand up and be counted on the side of the Freedom to Read, the position that librarians defend on a daily basis.

Please consider taking action. We need your voice. Children need your voice. We, and those who censor books, need to know that you do not agree with the actions of bullies. 

Vicki and Steve Palmquist
Children’s Literature Network
Teen Literature Network

Addresses for Administrators in Anoka-Hennepin School District 11

Dennis Carlson, Superintendent
Anoka-Hennepin School District 11
2727 No. Ferry St.
Anoka, MN 55303

Tom Heidemann, Chair
(District One – Anoka, Andover, Ramsey and Coon Rapids)
- 763-506-4795 (voicemail)

Marci Anderson, Vice Chair
(District Two – Blaine and Coon Rapids)
- 763-433-4150
- 763-506-1002 (Supt.’s admin assistant)

Bill Harvey, Director
(District Three – Coon Rapids, Champlin and Dayton)
- 763-506-1002 (Supt.’s admin assistant)

Michael Sullivan, Treasurer
(District Four – Andover, Ham Lake, Nowthen, Oak Grove and Ramsey)
- 763-506-5847
- 763-506-1002 (Supt.’s admin assistant)

Dr. Scott Wenzel, Clerk
(District Five – Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Coon Rapids and Fridley)
- 763-433-4151
- 763-506-1002 (Supt.’s admin assistant)

Jeff Simon, Director
(District Six – Coon Rapids and Andover)
- 763-506-7742
- 763-506-1002 (Supt.’s admin assistant)

There is a comment form at the Anoka-Hennepin School District website:  

Lea Anne Clauer, Media Training and Learning Specialist
Anoka Hennepin ISD #11 District Media Services
- 763-506-1334
- lee.clauer@anoka.k12.mn.us

Dr. Joel VerDuin – Chief Technology & Information Officer
Anoka-Hennepin ISD #11 Educational Service Center
- 763-506-1020
- joel.verduin@anoka.k12.mn.us 

Mike Farley – Principal, Anoka High School

 Address for Administrator at Anoka County Public Libraries

Marlene Moulton Janssen
Director Anoka County Public Libraries
707 County Rd. 10 NE
Blaine, MN 55434